I can’t sleep.
And what do I do when I can’t sleep?
I’ve been wanting to write this blog for longer than I care to admit. I don’t know why I hesitate. It’s like I can’t do this story justice with my words. I can’t string together the thoughts to give rise to the same feelings that conjure up inside of me when this moment comes to mind. It’s like I can’t make it real enough to envelope you in the same sense of compassion and purpose that drenched me the moment I met the eyes that pierced my soul.
If we’re friends on Facebook, you’ve seen this photo:
If you’ve read its caption, it says:
This tiny, nameless beauty doesn’t even know the jetplane-sized impact she’s had on my world.
I don’t know you, little one… But you are so loved. So, so loved.
And I meant it.
It was my second night in Cambodia.
A few of us adventurers connected and traveled by tok-tok to a local temple to watch the sun set. I don’t remember what it was called. It doesn’t much matter. I will never forget it.
The half hour ride was bumpy… and made infinitely more entertaining by the fact that, out of respect, I opted to change from short-shorts into pants a touch more appropriate for temple-touring. I may or may not have inadvertently given my travel buddies (and half of Siem Reap) a bit of a union jack show. Not sorry.
We arrived at the temple, situated significantly off the beaten path, and were pleasantly greeted by hardly anybody at all. A few toktoks were scattered across the dirt path at the edge of the temple grounds and no more than couple dozen tourists dotted the west-facing wall of the temple itself.
Disembarking our mode of transport, my eyes were fixated on the looming stone structure piercing the Cambodian jungle before me. I certainly wasn’t expecting my walk to be interrupted by the teeniest, tiniest voice below me…
I looked down.
The second my blue eyes connected with her brown ones, the world changed. Her eyes pierced my soul.
The teeniest, tiniest voice, coming out of the teeniest, tiniest, little human.
I knelt down to her.
She was wearing a basket around her neck. It was full of post cards. She was selling them for a dollar.
She kept repeating herself. It was probably the only words she knew in English.
I looked around; there were no mothers. There were no other children in sight. She was alone.
I asked her to take off her basket.
I don’t know if I wanted to hug her, or talk to her, or get a picture taken with her. I don’t know what I wanted with her. Just, her. I wanted her.
The second I began interacting with her, she changed. She stopped repeating the cost of her goods and began looking nervous, and afraid. Her eyes darted over to something behind me. Two Cambodian men walked by slowly, staring intently at us both. Their well-worn Adidas sandals brushed the dusty ground and they whispered something to each other. She looked away, from them and from me… looked down. I didn’t know who they were to her, but it was clear it wasn’t good.
Something happened in me.
In that single, solitary, fleeting moment, something changed.
Just like it came, it went.
I don’t remember if I hugged her.
I hope I did.
I walked away from her, with my travelers. We walked up to the temple and watched the sunset. I was fragmented. I think it was obvious.
“What’s happening for you?”
“I can’t get over that little girl.”
“I read in my Lonely Planet book that many of the kids outside of temples like these belong to criminal organizations.”
There it was.
I was helpless.
There was nothing I could do for her, give her, show her, to make her know how much she mattered… how much her little life was worth.
Those two men wouldn’t hug her at the end of the day.
Those two men wouldn’t give her the kinds of toys I give my dog, or the selection of beds that Ella has to choose from in her three bedroom condo.
All I wanted was to take her home and love her.
I wanted her to feel safe.
I wanted her to know she had changed my world.
I wasn’t myself for the rest of our temple visit – staring halfheartedly out across the jungle landscape as the deep orange sun set across it. It was beautiful. And I felt empty.
We explored the ruins.
My heart wasn’t in it.
As we left to find our toktok, my eyes scanned for the little Cambodian girl. She was gone. Crazy, wild thoughts of how I could get her home with me flooded my head and heart. There was nothing I could do for her.
We traveled back in the toktok to the heart of Siem Reap. I fought tears the whole way. We put on music – one of my favourites, even – American Authors, Best Day Of My Life. It didn’t help.
As my company engaged in beers upon beers on a rooftop patio, I stared at the chaotic street below me.
My phone buzzed.
One of the backpackers had texted me a photo….
I sat and stared at it on my phone.. and the tears came.
I cried the kind of cry I haven’t cried in a very long time.
It was the gross kind of heaving, sobbing cry that just wouldn’t stop.
It just wouldn’t stop.
I cried like that for the rest of the night – at the bar, en route back to my hotel, in the hotel room, falling asleep.
I cried long and hard enough that I began to unravel. The core fibers that make up, intrinsically, the person I am, began to come apart at the seams. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I wouldn’t actually ever be able to tell this story to anyone without that same feelings and emotions bubbling up and often spilling out all over me (and visibly onto anyone who sits across the dining room table and hears it).
I mean, I’ve seen poverty.
I’ve seen extreme poverty.
But there’s something about a little girl…. the fragility, the innocence, how very alone she was that day at that temple.
If you know me at all, you know that I have viciously opposed the idea of having a family for about as long as I can remember (some times more audibly than others, but the general takeaway message has mostly remained the same).
It’s as though the Universe brought this little human into my world to shake me, spin me, and slap me across the face with the reality that not all kids are created equal.
Not all kids are the western, self-righteous assholes who scream that they got this iPad instead of that iPad and that they hate me and they hate their lives and they’re going to run away from home.
Some kids just want to be safe.
Some kids just want to be loved.
Some kids just want to know that the meal they’re having isn’t going to be their last for the forseeable future.
I said to someone the other day…. “If I could go back to that temple, and find that girl, and give her my oversized unicorn, I could drop dead and I would have lived exactly how I wanted to live.” There’s nothing more powerful to me than that sentence; that intention.
I’ll likely never find her again.
I’ll likely never talk to her or hear her story or ever find out whether somebody hugged her and kissed her forehead as she fell asleep that night.
She’ll likely never know how long I’ve sat and stared at her beautiful face, wishing I could somehow make her safe from everything in the world that’s out to get her.
I don’t know you, little one… But you are so loved. So, so loved.
I’m asked often if I think I’ll ever commit, get married, have a family. My answer used to be an emphatic ‘no’. And then I grew up a little. I have come to believe that it’s possible that one day I’ll meet someone, under some circumstance, where, every time we see eachother, I’ll continue to say, “Yes, I want to see this person again.” And our commitment won’t be in the form of, ‘You’re my boyfriend and I’m your girlfriend and you’re never allowed to bang another girl ever again.” but it’ll be in the form of, “I have everything I need right now from this particular human being. I don’t need anyone else.”
And maybe one day we’ll be traveling on Koh-whatever and we’ll walk by a jewelry store owned by a little thai woman with no teeth… and she’ll smile and show us something sparkly and he’ll say to me, “I want you to have this” and I’ll tease that it’s not going to go on *that* finger… and he’ll say that it’s exactly where he prefers it to be… just like that. And it will.
And there won’t be a wedding with horses and carriages and 350 guests. Maybe it’ll just be a dinner for two on a mountain in Tibet, with a selfie that we instagram and make some cheesy quip about hypoxic mountain conditions and making promises we hope to keep. I dunno.
And one day, maybe while in Cambodia or Nepal, we’ll visit a school or an orphanage or a family that has a baby that needs our love and help and selfless spirit.. and we’ll look at one another and say, “Shall we?” and we will…. and that’s just how it’ll be. Not because I’ve planned for it to be this way, but because, in the moment, there won’t be a single solitary other option for what to do… or who to do it with.
That’s what I think.
*shrug* But what do I know.. I’m just a single 30-something year old girl trying to figure out life, love, and the universe. I really have no idea what I’m doing.
But these eyes…..
Never, will I ever, as long as I live… forget these eyes.
Thank you, Little One, for forever changing my world.
Now, I just need to figure out a way to change yours.